Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for March 23rd, 2012

If we’re led into nuclear war, this explains why…

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Very interesting post from Jeffrey Goldberg in James Fallows’s blog.

Written by Leisureguy

23 March 2012 at 7:06 pm

Posted in Mideast Conflict

Another sign of the decline of the US: Broken bridges, can’t fix

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Carol Wolf writes in Bloomberg BusinessWeek:

Every day about 140,000 cars and trucks cross the massive, seven-lane Tappan Zee Bridge connecting the northern suburban counties of New York City. Most drivers have no idea the 57-year-old bridge was designed in such a way that if just one of its structural elements gives way, the whole bridge could fall and send them tumbling into the Hudson River. The same is true for the Pulaski Skyway between Newark and Jersey City, and the San Diego-Coronado Bridge in California, not to mention the Fremont Bridge in Portland, Ore., the Lafayette Bridge in St. Paul, Minn., and thousands of others across the country.

Five years after the Minneapolis I-35W span suddenly collapsed in August 2007, killing 13 people and injuring 145 others, the U.S. still has 18,000 similarly designed spans, known as fracture-critical bridges, that need continual attention and money for inspections at a time when funding for maintenance is drying up. On March 31, the current extension to the federal highway bill, which funds work on bridges, will expire. Congress has been working on new legislation since the fall, getting nowhere. The Senate passed a two-year, $109 billion highway spending package on March 14 that would raise money for transportation projects by changing how pension fund contributions and liabilities are calculated. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is pushing a five-year bill that calls for using royalties from U.S. oil and gas drilling—a proposal he hasn’t been able to sell to his own party.

The delays and political bickering aren’t reassuring for commuters who rely on the San Diego-Coronado or any of the other fracture-critical bridges. “They don’t give any warning at the point of collapse,” says Thomas Fisher, dean of the College of Design at the University of Minnesota. “It is sudden and catastrophic.”. .

Continue reading. The public infrastructure’s crumbling was a sure sign of Rome’s decline/fall. And we’re seeing it here, now.

Written by Leisureguy

23 March 2012 at 6:47 pm

Multi-protein grub

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Very nice grub tonight. I use again the 4-qt sauté pan (I use All-Clad Stainless, but I was able to get this piece in Copper Core at a substantial savings). Put it on medium heat, add:

2 tsp toasted sesame oil
2 tsp hot chili sesame oil

When that’s hot, add:

2 spring onions, sliced thinly
1 large shallot, sliced thinly

Stir and sauté until limp. Add:

10 cloves garlic, minced

Sauté until garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds, then add:

2 tsp smoked paprika (I really like that taste)
good shake cayenne pepper
1 jalapeño pepper, small dice
4 oz tempeh, cut into slabs and then chunks
1 handful celery
2 domestic mushrooms, halved and sliced thick
2 Tbsp salted roasted peanuts (I used Virginia Diner peanuts I’m trying)
1/4 cup white wine (had it on hand, and pan seemed dry—this deglazed it as well)

Sauté that for a while, stirring the while, then add:

1/2 bunch collards, stalks minced, leaves chopped
1/4 cup beef broth (had it on hand)
1/2 cup cooked converted rice

I stirred that together, brought to boil, reduced heat to simmer it, and covered it. The peanuts, though, made me think “Thai”, so I removed the lid and added:

2 Tbsp fish sauce
juice of 1 lime

Covered it, cooked it for 20 minutes, but checked early, and all liquid was pretty much gone. I suddenly realized I had 1/2 green bell pepper I wanted to use up, so I added:

1/2 green bell pepper, chopped small

Stir, dip out a bowl, and top with yogurt that’s mostly drained and well toward being yogurt cheese.

Very yummy, actually. The weird variations of textures was striking: nothing quite a “meat” texture, but sort of the “meat” texture deconstructed into parts (mushrooms, tempeh, peanuts, rice, raw green pepper, fish sauce… put them together and they spell “meat”—of course, the beef broth didn’t hurt, either).

The above is not so much a recipe as simply a record of what I did. You could do a lot of different things: pine nuts or pecans in lieu of peanuts, or used diced Meyer lemon in place of fish sauce and lime, or add black olives, or use EVOO in lieu of sesame oil, or chard or kale in lieu of (or in addition to) collards, and so on. Go with what you got.

Written by Leisureguy

23 March 2012 at 6:41 pm

What you value

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I was thinking today of Grandmother Ham, my paternal grandmother. (My maternal grandmother died when I was an infant.) Grandmother Ham lived “across town”, a distance of about 8 very short blocks, which I could regularly walk by myself from around age 4. (I knew to cross the county road that was Main Street for six blocks or so at the (sole) stoplight.) So in the course of things my grandmother and I spent quite a bit of time together.

And she was great: she had a vegetable garden for a back yard—quite common in those WWII days and probably before, from the Great Depression—so I could dig all the holes I wanted. (I don’t know why young boys go through a compulsion to dig holes, intensified in my case by tales of our soldiers digging foxholes on the front lines in the European Theater: suddenly the holes I was digging were foxholes!)

I wore myself out, harmlessly, digging an enormously deep hole (maybe 18″?). Grandmother would admire it, then bring out her bucket of coffee grounds, chicken bones, eggshells, slops, peelings, and such, dump it into the hole, and have me cover it up.

Today I got thinking about how she told me repeatedly, from first grade through college and into graduate school: “Get an education. They can’t take that away from you.”

That’s the way it was always said: with the tagline, “They can’t take that away from you,” with just a slight emphasis on the “that” to indicate how different this (education) was from other things—things that, by implication, “they” could take from you—and apparently were likely to do so.

I suddenly realized over her life—indeed, just since 1900, when she was 21—she had seen a great deal of “them” taking “that” away. Indeed, in the decade of the Great Depression that ended when I was born (no causality implied, either way), everyone had suffered, personally, and everyone had acquaintances and sometimes friends and indeed family (if not themselves) who indeed had had everything taken away. Literally. Left without a house, without a job, without a car: destitute, with nothing but what they wore and could carry. That was not unusual. That was happening and quite visible.

Obviously, it was also a time of great unrest: people don’t like to live under such conditions. And people became conscious that some people lost everything—that is, everything except what they wore and could carry and those things that could not be taken away. Things like: an education, a skill, a talent, knowledge, friends, networks of acquaintances, experience, status (even former status: those who Know Someone doubtless fare better than those who don’t)—these are the things that “they” cannot take. That’s what’s truly valuable: the things that cannot be taken away. Your house, your car, your possessions? They can always be taken away (and frequently are: repo is big business and Bank of America made a lot taking away houses from people who owned them outright). Money? Hah. Two words: Bernie Madoff.

The things of greatest value are those they can’t take away from you. The way you hold your hands… the way you sip your tea…

There‘s one’s true wealth. And so it makes sense to devote most of your time, thought, effort, and resources toward those things, for in doing so you build wealth that can’t be taken from you.

Written by Leisureguy

23 March 2012 at 5:00 pm

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

Some movement on antibiotics fed to farm animals—at long last

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Only a tiny bit of movement, and Big Agriculture has yet to put the pressure on Congress and the Obama Administration. Gardiner Harris reports in the NY Times:

A federal magistrate judge on Thursday ordered the Obama administration to alert drug makers that the government may soon ban the common agricultural use of popular antibiotics in animals because the practice may encourage the proliferation of dangerous infections and imperil public health.

The order, issued by Judge Theodore H. Katz of the Southern District of New York, has the effect of restarting a process that the Food and Drug Administration began 35 years ago in hopes of preventing penicillin and tetracycline, two of the nation’s most popular antibiotics, from losing their effectiveness in humans because of their widespread use in animal feed to promote growth in livestock like chickens, pigs and cattle.

The order comes two months after the Obama administration announced restrictions on agricultural uses of cephalosporins, a critical class of antibiotics that includes drugs like Cefzil and Keflex, which are commonly used to treat pneumoniastrep throat and skin and urinary tract infections. The F.D.A. is expected to issue within days draft rules that would bar the use of penicillin and tetracycline — highly popular in agricultural settings — in animal feed to further growth, the same issue tackled by Judge Katz. A decade ago, the F.D.A. banned indiscriminate agricultural use of a powerful class of antibiotics, called fluoroquinolones, that includes the medicine Cipro.

The judge’s order may accelerate the F.D.A.’s incremental efforts to restrict common agricultural practices that are viewed by microbiologists and other medical researchers as leading to the growth of bacteria that are resistant to common antibiotic treatments, a development that many doctors say has cost thousands of lives.

Antibiotics were the wonder drugs of the 20th century, and their initial uses in both humans and animals were indiscriminate, experts say. Farmers were impressed by the effects of penicillin and tetracycline on the robustness of cattle, chickens and pigs, and added the drugs in bulk to feed and water, with no prescriptions or sign of sickness in the animals.

By the 1970s, public health officials had become worried that overuse was leading to the development of killer infections resistant to treatment. In 1977, the F.D.A. announced that it would begin the process of banning these uses. But the powerful House and Senate appropriations committees passed resolutions urging the F.D.A. not to follow through on these efforts, and the agency retreated.

“In the intervening years, the scientific evidence of the risks to human health from the widespread use of antibiotics in livestock has grown, and there is no evidence the F.D.A. has changed its position that such uses are not shown to be safe,” Judge Katz wrote in his order.

A vast majority of antibiotics used in the United States still goes to treat animals, not humans. Meanwhile, outbreaks of illnesses from antibiotic-resistant bacteria have grown in number and severity. . .

Continue reading. As you can tell, the FDA has experienced an inversion in which its mission to protect the public becomes perverted so that it sees its mission as protecting industry, the public  be damned.

Written by Leisureguy

23 March 2012 at 3:40 pm

Rugged Individualism reconsidered

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The American ideal (for many males, at least) is the Rugged Individualist: the man (almost always) who does not depend on anyone else, who forges his own path, goes his own way, finds his own solutions. Survivalists are prone to this notion, as well as many others who feel that they fall short.

The Rugged Individual lives off the grid, on his own land, grows and hunts for his own food, and is beholden to no one. He loads his own ammo or makes his own arrows, etc.

And yet: it falls apart at the slightest push. Rugged Individuals have a high mortality rate: a broken leg or a serious illness, and they die: no one to care for them, no medicines. Indeed, a proper Rugged Individual would lack language (which, after all, has been created by Others), would not have clothing or tools save those he could think up and make for himself. Basically, the Rugged Individual staggers naked through the woods, depending on a stick and a sharp rock for his food and safety: not much of an existence.

I tried and failed to think of all the ways in which I depend on others: my birth, of course, but also my language, my clothing, food, housing, transportation, tools, cookware, entertainment, …  In fact, there’s very damn little that I create totally from scratch—even the shaving book is written in a language I had given to me, and an activity that was defined for me, using tools and products made by others, to groom myself according to social customs…

The Rugged Individual, in practice, is a gibbering, naked, short-lived animal—and desperately hungry, no doubt, not knowing which foods are best to eat at each season, nor how to hunt (all the hard-won accumulated knowledge humans pass to the next generation), but by God! beholden to none. The promise and premise both are false.

Written by Leisureguy

23 March 2012 at 1:08 pm

Posted in Daily life

Very interesting question: Does it matter whether God exists?

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The NY Times has an intriguing column by Gary Gutting, a professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame:

Discussions of religion are typically about God. Atheists reject religion because they don’t believe in God; Jews, Christians and Muslims take belief in God as fundamental to their religious commitment. The philosopher John Gray, however, has recently been arguing that belief in God should have little or nothing to do with religion. He points out that in many cases — for instance, “polytheism, Hinduism and Buddhism, Daoism and Shinto, many strands of Judaism and some Christian and Muslim traditions” — belief is of little or no importance. Rather, “practice — ritual, meditation, a way of life — is what counts.” He goes on to say that “it’s only religious fundamentalists and ignorant rationalists who think the myths we live by are literal truths” and that “what we believe doesn’t in the end matter very much. What matters is how we live.”

Even if God is powerful enough to save the souls of the devout, and loving enough to want to, he still might not.

The obvious response to Gray is that it all depends on what you hope to find in a religion. If your hope is simply for guidance and assistance in leading a fulfilling life here on earth, a “way of living” without firm beliefs in any supernatural being may well be all you need. But many religions, including mainline versions of Christianity and Islam, promise much more. They promise ultimate salvation. If we are faithful to their teachings, they say, we will be safe from final annihilation when we die and will be happy eternally in our life after death.

If our hope is for salvation in this sense — and for many that is the main point of religion—then this hope depends on certain religious beliefs’ being true. In particular, for the main theistic religions, it depends on there being a God who is good enough to desire our salvation and powerful enough to achieve it.

But here we come to a point that is generally overlooked in debates about theism, which center on whether there is reason to believe in God, understood as all-good and all-powerful. Suppose that the existence of such a God could be decisively established. Suppose, for example, we were to be entirely convinced that a version of the ontological argument, which claims to show that the very idea of an all-perfect being requires that such a being exist, is sound. We would then be entirely certain that there is a being of supreme power and goodness. But what would this imply about our chances for eternal salvation? . . .

Continue reading. I find the idea intriguing—it to some extent rhymes with my notion that it’s important to observe your behavior and draw conclusions from that rather than from your motives for the behavior: what matters is what you do, not the reason for it.

UPDATE: It would be interesting indeed if God judged people purely from their actions and words, without regard to their thoughts and motivations (and prayers): just looking at what actually happens. Wonder if under that idea the populations of Heaven and Hell would change…

Written by Leisureguy

23 March 2012 at 9:57 am

Posted in Daily life, Religion

Paul Ryan knows exactly what he’s doing

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Kevin Drum of Mother Jones makes a very good point:

Ezra Klein writes this today about Paul Ryan’s budget roadmap:

I don’t think Paul Ryan intended to write a budget that concentrated its cuts on the poorest Americans. Similarly, I don’t think Mitt Romney intended to write a budget that concentrated its cuts on the poorest Americans. But there’s a reason their budgets turned out so similar…

Really, let’s just stop right there. Ryan’s budget didn’t spring forth immaculately from the forehead of Zeus. It’s pretty much the same as his 2011 budget. Which in turn is pretty much the same as his 2010 budget. Which in turn is just a nicely formatted version of everything he’s been saying for the past decade.

I’m so tired of Paul Ryan I could scream. Every year we get a slightly different version of the same old thing, and every year we have to waste entire man-years of analysis in order to make the same exact points about it. And the biggest point is that his budget would forceenormous, swinging cuts in virtually every domestic program, especially those for the poor. If this bothers Ryan, he’s had plenty of time to revise his budget roadmap to address it.

But he hasn’t. He knows perfectly well that his budget concentrates its cuts on the poorest Americans. It’s been pointed out hundreds of times, after all. If he found that troublesome he’d change it. Since he hasn’t, the only reasonable conclusion is that this is exactly what he intends. Let’s stop pretending otherwise.

The NY Times had a good editorial on the topic a couple of days ago:

As he rolled out his 2013 budget on Tuesday, Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, correctly said that he and his fellow Republicans were offering the country a choice of two very clear futures. The one he outlined in his plan could hardly be more bleak.

It is one where the rich pay less in taxes than the unfairly low rates they pay now, while programs for the poor — including Medicaid and food stamps — are slashed and thrown to the whims of individual states. Where older Americans no longer have a guarantee that Medicare will pay for their health needs. Where lack of health insurance is rampant, preschool is unaffordable, and environmental and financial regulation are severely weakened.

Mr. Ryan became well known last year as the face of the most extreme budget plan passed by a house of Congress in modern times. His new budget is, if anything, worse, full of bigger, emptier promises. It is largely in agreement with the plans of the Republican presidential candidates.

It vows to balance tax cuts for corporations and the rich by closing loopholes, but never lists the loopholes. It is, however, quite specific about cutting Medicaid by about 45 percent, leaving 19 million people without care, and eliminating plans to provide health insurance for 33 million who lack coverage now.

Worst of all, it undermines a hard-fought agreement Democrats and Republicans made last August to set spending targets for 2013. Under pressure from House conservatives, Mr. Ryan cut nearly $20 billion from spending levels set in the debt-ceiling pact, breaking faith with the Senate and potentially leading to a government shutdown this fall. Much of that reduction is likely to come from programs like Head Start, Pell grants for college students and state aid.

It also tries an end run around an agreement Republicans signed last year to reduce the deficit over 10 years with equal $55 billion annual cuts to military and domestic programs after the Congressional supercommittee failed to agree on a plan. Mr. Ryan wants to increase defense spending and shift all the cuts to domestic programs, which will probably include food stamps, the federal payroll and mortgage guarantees. Very little of Mr. Ryan’s plan will get through the Senate, but it sets a disturbing precedent for future agreements.

Over all, about half of Mr. Ryan’s $5 trillion in cuts over a decade would come from health care. His plan to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 March 2012 at 9:52 am

Big Brother is now overtly and officially watching you like a hawk

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How the US has changed! Now the government is building, in effect, a dossier on every citizen, keeping close track of their communications and the their movements and their friends and acquaintances and god knows what else. Back in the day, people would not have liked that—especially not the GOP, which hated this sort of thing. But now the idea seems quite popular, and especially with the GOP. (The GOP is the party of small government? give me a break—it’s more the party of intrusive government, wanting the government to regulate our sex lives, telling us who we can and can’t marry, and so on.)

The Associated Press reports:

The U.S. intelligence community will now be able to store information about Americans with no ties to terrorism for up to five years under new Obama administration guidelines.

Until now, the National Counterterrorism Center had to immediately destroy information about Americans that was already stored in other government databases when there were no clear ties to terrorism.

Giving the NCTC expanded record-retention authority had been called for by members of Congress who said the intelligence community did not connect strands of intelligence held by multiple agencies leading up to the failed bombing attempt on a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas 2009.

“Following the failed terrorist attack in December 2009, representatives of the counterterrorism community concluded it is vital for NCTC to be provided with a variety of datasets from various agencies that contain terrorism information,” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in a statement late Thursday. “The ability to search against these datasets for up to five years on a continuing basis as these updated guidelines permit will enable NCTC to accomplish its mission more practically and effectively.”

The new rules replace guidelines issued in 2008 and have privacy advocates concerned about the potential for data-mining information on innocent Americans.

“It is a vast expansion of the government’s surveillance authority,” Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said of the five-year retention period. . .

Continue reading. And the inestimable Charlie Savage reports in the NY Times:

The Obama administration is moving to relax restrictions on how counterterrorism analysts may retrieve, store and search information about Americans gathered by government agencies for purposes other than national security threats.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Thursday signed new guidelines for the National Counterterrorism Center, which was created in 2004 to foster intelligence sharing and serve as a terrorism threat clearinghouse.

The guidelines will lengthen to five years — from 180 days — the amount of time the center can retain private information about Americans when there is no suspicion that they are tied to terrorism, intelligence officials said. The guidelines are also expected to result in the center making more copies of entire databases and “data mining them” using complex algorithms to search for patterns that could indicate a threat.

Intelligence officials on Thursday said the new rules have been under development for about 18 months, and grew out of reviews launched after the failure to connect the dots about Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the “underwear bomber,” before his Dec. 25, 2009, attempt to bomb a Detroit-bound airliner.

After the failed attack, government agencies discovered they had intercepted communications by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and received a report from a United States Consulate in Nigeria that could have identified the attacker, if the information had been compiled ahead of time.

The changes are intended to allow analysts to more quickly identify terrorism suspects. But they also set off civil-liberties concerns among privacy advocates who invoked the “Total Information Awareness” program. That program, proposed early in the George W. Bush administration and partially shut down by Congress after an outcry, proposed fusing vast archives of electronic records — like travel records, credit card transactions, phone calls and more — and searching for patterns of a hidden terrorist cell. . .

Continue reading. Of course, all those files and data will be quite useful as the government broadens its interest from terrorists to “troublemakers” and dissenters. And now that people can be imprisoned indefinitely merely on suspicion—and put to death on a whim—the country is finding a new direction indeed.

Written by Leisureguy

23 March 2012 at 9:46 am

Child-proofing medications

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Edyta Zielinska has an interesting article in The Scientist on making medications safer for the very young:

In 2005, a mother who had just given birth received codeine to dull the pain associated with childbirth. In her body, the codeine was converted into morphine by a drug-metabolizing enzyme called CYP2D6. Although people carry many variations in the gene for this enzyme, this woman had an unusual difference: she expressed multiple copies of the gene. As a result, the additional CYP2D6 enzymes in her body churned through the codeine so efficiently that her morphine levels spiked and stayed high. Unbeknownst to her doctors, high doses of the drug had passed from her milk into her infant. When the baby was brought back to the hospital with gray skin 12 days after his birth, doctors were puzzled. He was an otherwise healthy baby boy. The next day he died—the concentration of morphine in his blood 30 times higher than expected.

The case highlights not only how variable adults can be in how they metabolize drugs, but also how challenging it is to correctly diagnose and treat infants, whose symptoms and basic physiology differ greatly from those of grown-ups. When babies get sick, they can’t say what’s wrong, what hurts, or whether a treatment has helped. Their most vehement expression—crying—doesn’t always convey whether they are in pain, scared, or simply hungry. What’s most confounding is that the drugs intended to treat their pain react much differently in their small bodies than in those of adults, in some cases rapidly accumulating to high concentrations, in other cases clearing out of their bodies much faster. On top of that, their developmental changes aren’t always linear; sometimes the function of a particular pathway fluctuates throughout childhood before stabilizing at adult levels, making it difficult for doctors to be sure they are getting the dosing right.

A dearth of knowledge about how a child’s physiology changes from birth to adolescence, together with the understudied effects of many drugs in their bodies, makes almost any treatment risky. And yet in the past several years, researchers have begun to tease out how this changing physiology affects a drug’s pharmaco-kinetics: how the drug is absorbed into the bloodstream, how the drug distributes throughout the tissues, and how the drug is metabolized and removed from the body.

Read the accompanying commentary by J. Steven Leeder

Morphine, for example, can be safely given to children following surgery or other physical trauma, as long as certain considerations are taken into account. “Kids are more watery than adults, and adults are fatter,” says Wick Kraemer, a pediatric anesthesiologist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). This makes a difference in the metabolism of drugs, such as morphine, that are hydrophilic, or water-loving, allowing them to circulate throughout a baby’s “watery” body more effectively. As a result, morphine will be eliminated from a baby’s body more slowly than from an adult’s, and thus should be readministered less frequently. But as a baby ages, its bodily water percentage also changes, in turn affecting the time it takes for half of the dose to be eliminated. In premature babies, who are typically 85 percent water, the half-life of morphine is 6 to 9 hours; in normal-weight newborns, who are usually 75 percent water, it’s 7 to 8 hours, and in a 6-month old, 3 to 5 hours, says Kraemer. (By comparison, the adult body is about 65 percent water.) But drugs, such as the pain medication fentanyl, that use fat as a vehicle, do not distribute well in the body of a newborn, which can have as little as 1 to 15 percent total body fat.

Those are a few examples of drug pharmacokinetics that are well understood in children. Unfortunately, about 50 percent of the drugs prescribed to children are being administered off-label, which means that their pharmacological properties have never been tested in a child for that indication. (See “Are the Kids Alright?” in this issue.) In addition, there is no such thing “as a typical child,” says Imti Choonara, a pediatric pharmacologist at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom. A neonate is as markedly different from a 1-year old as a 1-year-old is from a young teenager, he adds. From day to day and week to week, a newborn’s body changes, and so does the manner in which it processes drugs. And clinical practice hasn’t quite caught up. Physicians are prone to high drug-administration error rates in very young patients. A study of two teaching hospitals published in 2001 found that more potentially serious medication errors were made involving neonates in intensive care units than anywhere else in the hospitals, and the ordering physician was to blame 79 percent of the time. In addition, an outside review of the errors reported that more than 90 percent could have been prevented.1

While much is yet unknown, here are some of the physiological differences between children and adults that make treating kids so difficult. . .

Continue reading. The article is accompanied by a graphic:

Written by Leisureguy

23 March 2012 at 9:00 am

Posted in Daily life, Medical

“Stand your ground” laws

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“Stand your ground” laws—the law that allowed George Zimmerman to shoot and kill an unarmed 17-year-old boy carrying a pack of Skittles and an iced tea—have been passed in many states. The problem is that some people are very quick to feel threatened, and if they are armed, they then are allowed by the law to shoot and kill whoever was making them nervous. In the case at hand, George Zimmerman had to follow the guy and then get out of his car and approach the guy in order to feel threatened. But once that feeling seizes him, he’s free to blaze away under the law: that’s what the law says. Ryan Reilly has a brief post about the story in TPM Muckraker:

Trayvon Martin was just 10 years old when politicians in Florida passed legislation that, seven years later, is being blamed for letting his killer walk free.

Martin’s Feb. 26 death in a gated suburban neighborhood at the hands of a 28-year-old man is calling attention to Florida’s 2005 “Stand Your Ground” law, which allows the use of deadly force if a person feels threatened. Gunman George Zimmerman was pursuing Martin because he thought the 17-year-old African-American teenager was suspicious and told police he was acting in self defense, though Martin had only a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea on him when he was shot and killed a short distance from the home of his father’s girlfriend.

Florida was the first state in the country to pass such a bill, but they weren’t the last. And like many legislative trends, this one has its roots in the conservative American Legislative Exchange Counsel (ALEC).

Minutes documenting a 2005 meeting from an old ALEC website provided to TPM by the Center for Media and Democracy and Common Cause show that Marion Hammer of the National Rifle Association (NRA) pitched model legislation to ALEC’s Criminal Justice Task Force. An old NRA update also documented the meeting. “Her talk was well-received, and the task force subsequently adopted the measure unanimously,” the NRA wrote in an Aug. 12, 2005 post on the NRA website.

As Matt Gertz writes over at Media Matters, Florida’s law is “virtually identical” to the so-called “Castle Doctrine Act” proposed by ALEC and the NRA’s suggestion.

Opponents of the legislation are pointing out how easily it could be abused.

“All you have to say is that you reasonably believed you were threatened, and the only person who can dispute that is the person you have just killed,” says Daniel Vice of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. But as this chart from Mother Jones illustrates, “Stand Your Ground” bills have already spread across the country.

Sponsors of Florida’s bill, meanwhile, are claiming it shouldn’t come into play in the Martin case.

“They got the goods on him. They need to prosecute whoever shot the kid,” former Sen. Durell Peaden told the Miami Herald. “He has no protection under my law.”

Unfortunately, Sn. Peaden apparently didn’t read his law.

If you live in a state that has passed “Stand your ground” laws, avoid nervous people. Here are the 23 states where you’re in danger from armed nervous people.

Written by Leisureguy

23 March 2012 at 8:52 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

Traditional publishing hurts scientific (i.e., human) progress

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This issue is heating up as publishers work harder to rob the public treasury, in effect: by staking claims to work paid for through taxpayer money. Michael Elsen has an excellent article on the general problem in Wired:

A battle that has raged for over a decade between advocates of open science and publishers of traditional scientific journals is coming to a head.

Eighty five percent of published papers remain locked behind subscription pay walls, accessible only to those affiliated with universities and other large research institutions. But new journals that make everything they publish freely available are growing rapidly. And government efforts to make the results of all publicly funded scientific and medical research accessible to everyone are expanding, despite industry-backed legislative efforts to end them.

Backed into a corner, traditional publishers have launched a public relations campaign of sorts, attempting to justify their business practices by highlighting the value they add by overseeing peer review and editorial selection. Charging for access to their content, they argue, is the only way they can recoup their costs.

This argument resonates with many interested parties. Most scientists value peer review, believing it protects and improves the papers they publish and read. They also place great stock in the sorting of papers into journals organized on the basis of audience and importance, which plays a major role in determining who succeeds in science. The public, in turn, values peer review, believing it determines which scientific results they can trust.

Never mind that publishers are on shaky ground when they take credit for peer review, as reviewers and many editors volunteer their time.

The real problem with the “value added” argument is that value is a net proposition. To calculate the actual impact of traditional scientific publishing, whatever value peer review adds must be balanced against the value lost by continuing to use a subscription based business model to pay for it.

The most obvious cost is financial. Science, technology and medical publishers take in close to $10 billion every year (pdf). Some of this goes to pay editorial and production staff and to fund essential publishing processes. But a lot of money is wasted marketing journals to subscribers and managing access, and there are tremendous inefficiencies in maintaining over 10,000 distinct titles in an era of electronic dissemination.

Subscription journals are also monopolies. . .

Continue reading. And at University of North Carolina, they’re debating the issue as reported by Sabrina Richards in The Scientist:

The committee on copyright at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is debating whether to require faculty members to deposit their work in open-access respositories. Funds already exist through UNC’s Health Sciences Library to help faculty members who want to publish in free journals.

“If you aspire to do what the University mission says and spread a wealth of knowledge to the citizens of North Carolina and, as much as possible, the world, then you should consider open access and make it a top priority,” committee member Paul Jones told The Daily Tar Heel, although he acknowledged certain disadvantages to the open-access model, like a more limited selection of journals.

UNC isn’t the first to consider such a move. A variety of institutions, including Harvard University, the University of California at Berkeley, Dartmouth College, and Columbia University, have signed the Compact for Open-Access Publishing Equity (COPE), thus promising to establish long-term funding strategies to underwrite publication fees necessary to support open-access journals. In another model, Princeton University authorizes faculty members to post papers in open-access repositories, and push back against publishers who ask faculty to sign exclusive copyright contracts.

Written by Leisureguy

23 March 2012 at 8:44 am

Miss Megs, showing tufts, having fun

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Miss Megs, feeling very relaxed. (The cloth carrot is stuffed with primo catnip.) She loves her fish: she likes to sit on it, or sometimes lie beside it and hug it, and yes, sometimes scratch the hell out of it. (It was not so fuzzy originally.)

Critical eyes with note the need for brushing. Tell Megs. If either of us takes brush to her… well, you’ve never seen such wrath. *Achilles* was not so wrathful as Megs, nor (I would bet) so pointy and sharp. Neither The Wife nor I can approach her. So when she sits in my lap I try to pick out tufts when I can. Sometimes she allows me to do a couple, but that’s it.

So I have a raggedy cat, but we’re definitely building a kit to take when the time comes to adopt a new kitten, and a brush will be among the test tools. (Also string, ball, etc.) A few years ago—my God, six years ago—I wrote a post on selecting a cat.

Written by Leisureguy

23 March 2012 at 7:47 am

Posted in Cats, Daily life, Megs

Wonderful shave with new ARC Weber (and Creed’s Green Irish Tweed)

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Quite a wonderful shave today. First, a comment on the brush: the Rooney Heritage Victorian, or the TO Special. As I continue to use the brush, I find that Todd Oppenheimer’s assessment is spot-on. The knot (with its hooked bristles, as shown in photo—the spiky appearance can be smoothed simply by brushing the tips of the bristles across your hand, but I wanted you to see the interlocking) is not terribly large, but it has ample capacity and, as Todd points out, extremely soft tips combined with a very resilient shaft, so the knot feels both firm and soft on the face. Moreover, the construction somehow pushes the lather to the top, so the lather is not hogged in the interior of the knot (as with some brushes, particularly larger ones): the lather is presented for your use. Perhaps the hooked tips are responsible for the “tacky” feeling you get when you rub your fingertips over the ends of the wetted brush: a kind of soft grabby thing, feeling as I image gecko feet would feel (pure imagination: no geckos here). In sum: a stellar brush.

I’ve mentioned that I’m thinking about “Good, Better, Best” lists in various categories in the next edition. Creed’s Green Irish Tweed will definitely be in the “Best” category for non-vegan shavers. (For vegans, “Best” will include Otoko Organics.) Creed’s GIT produces a wonderful thick, dense, smooth, fragrant lather. Yardley shaving soap (lavender fragrance) is equally good, but Yardley soaps haven’t been made for decades.

So with a fully prepped face (Ach. Brito this morning in lieu of MR GLO), I pick up the ARC Weber (ARC = “Advanced Razor Coating,” which apparently is a type of chrome coating frequently used on medical instruments) loaded with one of the Astra Superior Platinum blades shipped with it. Very nice feel—the usual Weber heft and balance and of course the same head. The ARC head has a feel different from that of the DLC-coated head: the DLC head has a kind of smooth pull that’s difficult to describe, whereas the ARC feels more like a regular razor. OTOH, the stubble just beneath my chin and the front of my jawline seems to hug the skin, so a certain amount of skin stretching is required to get a good shave there. I didn’t find this to be an issue with the ARC Weber: it somehow seemed to slip under the low-lying stubble quite readily. I did do a little skin stretching, but not nearly so much as I usually do.

Finally, a rinse, the alum block, another rinse, and Paul Sebastian aftershave, one of my faves. Friday, here we come.

Written by Leisureguy

23 March 2012 at 7:30 am

Posted in Shaving

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